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State seeks to purchase forest conservation easements

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is seeking landowners who wish to apply for permanent conservation easements through its Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program (RHOSP).

Since 2002, the state of Washington has invested $3.9 million to purchase easements through the program.

“The program is about finding ways to achieve endangered species protections in partnership with economically viable forest management,” said Washington State Forester Aaron Everett in a press release. “This year’s program funds will be targeted in areas where recent science shows us that Northern spotted owls can benefit from strategic habitat protection.”

This year marks the first time funding has been provided by the state legislature since RHOSP was revised in 2013 to include habitat for species protected by the state as threatened or endangered. RHOSP also allows DNR to purchase easements from willing sellers whose property includes areas where a river’s active channel meanders – known as channel migration zones. These islands of timber have high ecological value to species like salmon and steelhead.

Interested landowners must apply by 5 p.m. on Sept. 30.

To qualify for a conservation easement purchase through RHOSP, a property must be:

•  Located on forestland with critical habitat for state threatened or endangered species designated by the state Forest Practices Board, or include a channel migration zone;

•  Identified as either “designated forest land” (Chapter 84.33 RCW) or “current use forest land” (Chapter 84.34 RCW) on county assessor records; and

•  Free of unacceptable liabilities such as hazardous substances or other site conditions that may jeopardize the fisheries or environmental quality of the project area.

Applications will be prioritized for funding based on each property’s unique values, such as:

•  Ecological value to strategic Northern spotted owl emphasis areas, with special priority on the I-90 corridor and Klickitat County;

•  Habitat quality, biological characteristics, and significance;

•  Connectivity to other protected lands and areas with conservation agreements; and

•  Viability for conservation management.

Instructions and applications have been prepared for both the channel migration zone and critical habitat categories and are available on DNR’s RHOSP web page: http://www.dnr.wa.gov/BusinessPermits/Topics/OtherIndustryLandownerResources/Pages/riparian_open_space_program.aspx

Properties accepted into the program are ranked in priority for funding. Landowners whose easements are not purchased during the 2013-2015 state budgeting biennium will be offered the opportunity to be considered when future funding becomes available. RHOSP also accepts donations of conservation easements.

Landowners who wish to learn more about the program may reach Dan Pomerenk, RHOSP director, at 360-902-1427 or by email at dan.pomerenk@dnr.wa.gov

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